November 11, 2014
On Tuesday, November 11, The Humpty Dumpty Institute’s Higher Education Alliance and Alcorn State University hosted Mr. Roland Rich, former Executive Head of the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) for a lecture and discussion on “The United Nations Support for Democracy”. The lecture was made possible through the support of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund.
In his lecture, Mr. Rich began his remarks by stating that for the UN, the importance of democracy and of democratic values was first highlighted in the Charter of the United Nations, as well as in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. He discussed the competing theories of democratization, from modernization, human rights and civil society theories and the policy implications for each. He then talked about the work of UNDEF around the world in promoting democratization by funding projects that strengthen the voice of civil society, promote human rights, and encourage the participation of all groups in democratic processes. He then went on to speak about the grantees of the Democracy Fund and how their projects manage the challenges of building and restoring democracies, preserving democracies, and ensuring the quality of democracies. He stressed that these grantee partners are chosen without interference from local or national governments and that their evaluations are conducted outside of the UN system in order to guarantee their independence and transparency.
In response to a question concerning the legitimacy of regime change which overthrows despotic but stable governments in favor of sometimes unpredictable democracies, Mr. Rich responded that “democracy is not a light switch” that can just be turned on. He stated that in this respect, democracy is a dynamic social and political system whose ideal functioning is never fully “achieved”. Before the lecture and Q&A session, Mr. Rich met with international students from China and Egypt for an informal gathering to discuss issues surrounding democracy in their countries and the United Nations in general.
Mr. Rich, an Australian national, assumed his position as Executive Head of the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF) in 2007. Prior to his appointment to UNDEF, Mr. Rich was a member of the directing staff at the Centre for Defence and Strategic Studies of the Australian Defence College, teaching and mentoring colonel-level officers undertaking a master’s degree in international relations. In 2005 Mr. Rich was a research Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, DC. Between 1998 and 2005, Mr. Rich was the Foundation Director of the Centre for Democratic Institutions at the Australian National University which is Australia’s democracy promotion institute undertaking projects in the Asia-Pacific region. Mr. Rich joined the Australian foreign service in 1975 and had postings in Paris, Rangoon, Manila and, from 1994-1997, as Australian Ambassador to Laos. He has also served as Legal Advisor and Assistant Secretary for International Organisations in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Mr. Rich has also contributed to the scholarly literature on democracy and democracy promotion. In 2004, together with Edward Newman, he edited a publication entitled The UN Role in Promoting Democracy published by United Nations University Press which examined the areas of comparative advantage the UN had in this field. Mr. Rich was also Officer-in-Charge of the United Nations Office for Partnerships (UNOP) which serves as a gateway for corporate and philanthropic partnership opportunities with the UN family.